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Sept. 25, 2020

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Vancouver City Manager Holmes highest-paid city employee in Portland area

By , Columbian staff writer
3 Photos
Vancouver City Manager Eric Holmes listens to council deliberations during a city council work session on Monday. Holmes is the highest-paid city employee in the greater Portland metro area.
Vancouver City Manager Eric Holmes listens to council deliberations during a city council work session on Monday. Holmes is the highest-paid city employee in the greater Portland metro area. (Nathan Howard/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Vancouver City Manager Eric Holmes is the highest-paid city employee in the greater Portland metro area.

According to a recent ranking from the Portland Business Journal, Holmes tops the list of the 50 highest-paid city employees across Portland and Vancouver and the Oregon cities of Hillsboro, Beaverton and Gresham with an annual salary of $247,279. The rankings were based on base salaries, excluding any bonuses or benefits.

In an email to The Columbian, Holmes said his salary falls around the median for managers of comparable cities.

“The city council has chosen to compensate me fairly and appropriately for the responsibility of my position and the results delivered,” Holmes wrote. “I am honored to serve as Vancouver’s city manager and grateful for the opportunity to earn my compensation every day.”

Five other Vancouver employees also made the highest-paid list.

No. 6 is Deputy City Manager Lenda Crawford, whose annual salary is $222,554. The 20th highest-paid city employee in the metro area is James McElvain, chief of the Vancouver Police Department, who made $185,258 this year. Former City Attorney Bronson Potter, who retired in August, was No. 37 with a salary of $177,848, followed immediately by Fire Chief Joe Molina at $177,828. Ward Knable, division fire chief, is the last Vancouver employee to make the list, with a salary of $174,432.

Highest-paid city employees in the Portland metro area

1: Eric Holmes, city manager, Vancouver, $247,279.
2: Danielle Outlaw, police chief, Portland, $231,442.
3: Michael Jordan, Environmental Services Bureau director III, Portland, $225,930.
4: Tracy Reeve, city attorney, Portland, $225,056.
5: Adena Long, Parks and Recreation director III, Portland, $223,392.
NOTE: Does not include bonuses, benefits or incentive pay.
SOURCE: Portland Business Journal.

Portland Business Journal’s ranking is part of its ongoing Public Paychecks series. The list covered only city workers, excluding other kinds of public employees — such as coaches at state universities and hospital administrators, whose salaries can reach up into the millions.

In the context of the structure at Portland City Hall, it makes sense that Holmes would be paid higher than anyone employed by Vancouver’s larger neighbor: Portland does not employ a city manager.

Portland’s elected mayor, Ted Wheeler, handles the administration of city staff, and the city council directly manages the city’s various departments. Wheeler made $143,666 last year. Portland’s highest-paid employee is instead Police Chief Danielle Outlaw, who made $231,443 this year and ranked No. 2 on Portland Business Journal’s list.

“Vancouver City Council has one employee: We hire and fire the city manager,” Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle said in an interview Tuesday. “He’s in charge of everything else.”

Beaverton, too, has a mayoral structure instead of a city manager structure. Its highest-paid city employee is the mayor.

Gresham does have a city manager, who made the list at No. 13. Hillsboro’s longtime city manager resigned abruptly in January, but its assistant city manager appears low in the ranking.

McEnerny-Ogle said that the city council, which sets the salary for the city manager, strives to keep the pay competitive so as not to lose public servants to the private sector. But executive municipal jobs can’t match the salaries and benefits found in executive boardrooms, she added.

“I looked at some of the CEOs at private businesses, and we don’t come anywhere near what any of those individuals are making,” McEnerny-Ogle said.

But Holmes’ administrative duties are enormous, she added, and his nearly quarter-million-dollar salary reflects that.

“As you look at our urban growth area and our population, we have the second-largest water system in the state of Washington. In fact, if we annexed all of that and worked it, we would be the second largest city in the state of Washington,” McEnerny-Ogle said. “We imagine Eric is the CEO of the second-largest population and service area in the state.”

Holmes had previously worked as a planning director in Washougal and Battle Ground before he was promoted to Battle Ground city manager in 2002. He was hired on as Vancouver’s economic development director in 2007, then became the assistant city manager, then finally took the helm at Vancouver City Hall in 2010.

His first year on the job, Holmes’ salary was $161,500.

Holmes is one of the longest-running city managers in the Pacific Northwest, McEnerngy-Ogle said. She added that most managers tend to leave after about five years.

And the city’s population has grown considerably in that time, she pointed out.

“We’re (adding) over 3,000 people every year, and that means more citizens and also more city employees,” McEnerny-Ogle said. “You’re looking at 1,100 employees, $1.26 billion budget, and an employee who has been there for nine years.”